CHICAGO - Brandon Manning's strong play may make it difficult for the Flyers to take him out of the lineup when Radko Gudas' suspension ends.
Manning, a 26-year-old defenseman who plays with an edge, was solid in the first two games and, as a bonus, contributed three assists.
"He's shown steady improvement," coach Dave Hakstol said Tuesday before the game with the Blackhawks. "Last year was probably the first time he's been able to get into a stretch of games where he's in the lineup and knows what his role is. . . . This year, we're just seeing the next step in his development, and it's positive."
Gudas has three more games left on his suspension. Michael Del Zotto, another defenseman, is recovering from a knee injury and isn't expected back for about three weeks.
"We will have tough decisions, if and when we get healthy," Hakstol said.
Manning has been paired with veteran Nick Schultz.
"That's the one pair, coming into the regular season, that we didn't have a whole lot of information on," Hakstol said. "They hadn't played together before, with Manning on the right and Schultz on the left. But they're two veteran guys who have done a good job."
Said Manning: "I've got a lot of confidence in the system we're playing, and it's been a good start."
Manning said he gained confidence with his solid playoff performance last season against Washington. "I was ready to come in and build off that," he said.
In training camp, he was slowed by a shoulder injury, but he has completely recovered.
When Gudas and Del Zotto return, eight defensemen will be battling for six spots. Manning said it was "great for an organization, great for the team . . . and very healthy to have that competition. We've got a really good group of guys here."
The Flyers will host Anaheim in their home opener Thursday and will wear their 50th anniversary uniforms for the first time. Before the game, there will be tributes to the late Ed Snider and to the team's history.
The Flyers will give out light-up anniversary bracelets to fans. The last time they gave out similar bracelets, about 100 fans littered the ice with them during the third period of the Flyers' 6-1 playoff loss to Washington.
Winger Roman Lyubimov, 24, a free-agent signee who used to play in Russia's KHL, made his NHL debut Tuesday and replaced Nick Cousins in the lineup. "I'm real excited. I'm ready to play," Lyubimov said before the game. . . . Chicago rookie center Nick Schmaltz played for Hakstol at North Dakota.